Bassoonists Can't Play Jazz and Other Lies

If you’re wondering whether your jazz ensemble will work without trumpets or with some clarinets, bassoons, or flutes, the answer is yes! With a little imagination, you can make great music with any number and combination of instruments.

A nontraditional ensemble can also attract a wider range of students. “As many great musicians have said, good music is good music, so don’t be afraid to try something different,” says MENC member Jeffrey Stepien.

If you’re considering a nontraditional ensemble, “Join one yourself,” Stepien says. “Try a class in African drumming or jazz improvisation, or find some other musicians to ‘jam’ with, even if it’s only once or twice, so you can experience what your students might experience.”

He also suggests:

  • Use music notation software to quickly transpose parts out.
  • Teach students how to use notation software so they can write their own and fellow students’ parts.
  • Have students double on parts—it beefs up the band’s sound and works especially well at the middle school level.

“There are so many styles of music in our global culture, it’s a disservice for students to learn only about one or two simply because of the instrument they chose to perform on,” he adds.

Jeff Stepien currently teaches 4th, 5th, and 6th grade instrumental music (band and orchestra) in three schools in the Washington Elementary School District #6 in Glendale, AZ. Previously he taught in the Syracuse City School District and Chittenango School District in New York, and also worked as a woodwind specialist in the main stage showband on the cruise line Holland America in Europe.

– Anne Wagener, June 17, 2010 ©  National Association for Music Education